Peter DelGreco is president and CEO of Maine & Company, a Portland-based nonprofit that specializes in business attraction, working to entice companies to move or expand in Maine. Married with a 5-year-old son and living in Brunswick, he’s always on the go and well-caffeinated.

1. You pitched moving to Maine to 2,900 companies last year. How, where, and how much Red Bull was involved?

Funny you should ask. Coffee is my office’s drink of choice (with the occasional chocolate chip cookie). In addition to a lot of coffee, we had some help. We maximize our resources as much as possible, use force multipliers, ambassadors and contractors to help us get the message out.

We have an incredible board of directors who tirelessly offer their time and resources to meet and speak with business executives and decision-makers. These 25 or so leaders have chosen Maine as a location to build their careers, raise their families and grow their businesses. They could have invested anywhere but chose Maine. We like to use the expression “Talk to ME” when meeting with growing companies. We are fortunate at Maine & Company to have leaders that embody that expression.

2. When you’re selling a company on Lewiston-Auburn, what do you highlight?

I love the Lewiston-Auburn area. I think it is a region with both great employees and employers across a wide spectrum of industries. It is also a fantastic logistics hub with tremendous access to many markets. The business leaders are incredibly supportive of the area. They have an incredibly active chamber, cooperative organizations that take a truly regional approach to economic development, and successful companies like TD and Argo Marketing (to name just a few).

We look at the cooperation required regionally and statewide to bring Carbonite to the area and encourage Wal-Mart to build their 900,000-square-foot distribution center. Simply put: There are opportunities in Lewiston-Auburn and it’s a place where you can get a deal done. I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of the right attitude and willingness to make a deal a happen. It is vital.

3. What are our drawbacks? And what, if anything, can we do about them?

I hate talking about drawbacks. However, it is most important to view our opportunities and challenges within a global context. Every location in the world will have some drawback that a company will need to manage. That doesn’t mean that we can’t compete. At Maine & Company, we take great care to ensure that our clients have what they need to be successful. They define the criteria, we help them find it in Maine. A common adage is, “Right Work, Right Place.”

For example, some businesses say that they have trouble finding workers. As I travel across the country speaking with companies, I’ve learned a secret: EVERYBODY in the country is having trouble finding employees (unless your name is Google, Twitter, or Facebook). Our national workforce participation rate is the lowest that it has been in decades. We have national challenges trying to figure out how the long-term unemployed can re-enter the workforce.

Something across the country has happened that has created a misalignment between the skills of the U.S. workforce and the requirements of the employers. Given that national perspective, how do we compete? How are other locations competing? We have found that successful companies use the philosophy: “Hire the character, train the skill.” Maine workers are very adept at learning new skills and absorbing the culture of new employers. We think that is an advantage that we can sell.

4. The deal that didn’t happen that still bugs you sometimes at 2 a.m.?

There are a couple … fortunately, none in the Lewiston-Auburn area come to mind. Statewide, we worked on a project for two years with a publicly traded international IT company. This company is considered one of the original pillars of the Internet Age. After a five-country, seven-state search, they selected Maine. They planned to hire 200 people, mostly in financial and accounting roles (and also some data analytics).

They had developed partnerships with regional training and educational resources, began interviewing and extending offers, and planned renovations to the facility. In the end, the deal fell apart when the real estate department couldn’t come to an agreement with a potential landlord. Earlier, I emphasized the importance of having stakeholders involved that can get deals done. In this situation, the deal fell apart at the 11th hour. Almost two years later, it haunts me virtually every day. It would have been a great project.

5. Get that still makes you smile?

I’ve truly been blessed to work on so many successful projects in Maine. They all make me smile. Whether we were in a lead project management role or providing support to someone else, working on projects that lead to new job creation is an incredibly rewarding experience. The first big project that I worked on was T-Mobile USA in Oakland. For as much excitement as there was when the project was announced, the feeling was dwarfed by the joy of seeing the facility operational with hundreds of workers buzzing around. I’ve been fortunate to have that feeling with a number of projects around the state including operations like NotifyMD (Farmington and Winthrop), Carbonite (Lewiston), Boston Financial Data Services (Rockland), SunLife (Scarborough) and others.

However, the one that probably makes me smile the most is athenahealth in Belfast. I worked on that project for 3.5 years before they announced their intention to expand to Belfast. As anyone in sales will tell you, 3.5 years is a brutally long sales cycle … but it was worth it. They currently employ about 800 people in Belfast, adding about 100 people per year. athenahealth is routinely recognized as one of Maine’s Best Places to Work. They are making additional investments to their campus to support their continued growth. Their employees have such a great sense of mission and the company leadership (both in Belfast and Watertown, Mass.) is dedicated to bringing efficiencies to the delivery of health care.

It has also been amazing to watch the company involve themselves statewide and within the community. For example, they are big supporters of the Trek Across Maine (to raise money for the American Lung Association). I believe the athenahealth team now raises more money for the event than any other team. In the end, they make me smile the most because they fit the Maine & Company model exactly, and they are a company with a great mission, work environment, leadership and team. Maine is fortunate that they chose us as a location to support their growth.

6. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

We don’t receive grants, so this is a fun question to contemplate. I’ve got a bunch of thoughts and I will take the liberty of providing two:

A. The companies with the best chance for successful growth are those that develop strong training and on-boarding policies. Even with globalization and advanced automation, companies that hire the best teams will be the winners in the post-financial crisis economy. Going back to a previous answer, companies will need to do a good job of “hiring the character, training the skill.” I would organize a contest — or competitive grant process — for companies to propose how to use the money to successfully recruit, hire and train the most people. High-performing companies know what they need and know best how to train their employees. This contest would be designed to reward companies that do it the best.

B. Maine has a positive brand recognition across the country and people generally have positive images when they think of Maine. Virtually every successful project that Maine & Company has worked on in the past 10 years involved a decision-maker with a strong belief in Maine and our work environment. I would use the $1 million to develop a marketing plan to reach business leaders that have a connection to Maine. We try to reach those people now, but an extra million dollars might help us do it faster.

Six Questions For The CEO is a new monthly feature on the faces and names that keep business interesting. Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected]

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